Sunday, February 10, 2013

Presuppositions & Preunderstandings

Have you ever been involved in a discussion with another believer that turned towards what one of you assumed was THE interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture?  If you haven’t, count your blessings!  The fact of the matter is that we each bring a lot more to the study of God’s word than simply the ability to read. 

Preunderstandings are the preconceived notions that we as interpreters of Scripture bring to the task of hermeneutics.[1]   These are things that have been formed within us consciously and subconsciously before the task of interpretation is undertaken.  These preunderstandings are the starting point for understanding.[2]  There are times when our preunderstandings are correct and other times when our preunderstandings are incorrect.  The danger for the interpreter of Scripture is the assumption that a given preunderstanding about the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture is correct before the necessary study of the passage is undertaken.  Preunderstandings should be allowed to change each time a text is studied.[3]

In simple terms, a presupposition is an assumption about a statement or the world whose truth is taken for granted.[4]   Our presuppositions inform our preunderstandings and should not change with each reading of a text.  Presuppositions are rooted in a person’s overall view of the Bible such as the text is the Word of God, the Bible is true, the supernatural does occur, and the Bible does not contradict itself.[5]

The proper way to test presuppositions and preunderstandings is to place them under the text submitting them to the text.  If a preunderstanding is found to be incorrect, we must be open to altering it.  In trying to be objective in our studies, we need not abandon our faith.  Presuppositions are not necessarily bad things and no one interprets anything without an underlying set of assumptions.[6]  In fact, some presuppositions are necessary for correct interpretation of Scripture.

My own presuppositions include the following:
·         The Bible is the Word of God
·         The Bible is accurate in the claims found therein
·         The Bible can be understood by anyone who is willing to read it
·         The Bible does not contradict itself
·         The Bible addresses spiritual things and as such requires a spiritual element in the approach to seeking to understand the truths found within

My presuppositions originate from my time in church and my own studies.  I did not have the benefit of being raised in a Christian home yet my parents willingly allowed a local Baptist church with an active bus ministry to pick my sisters and I up and take us to church on Sunday mornings.  Though I am confident of my salvation at age 7, it was not until my late 20’s that I began to understand my need for a closer walk with the Lord.  That understanding culminated in a re-commitment to my faith and eventually making known publically my call to the ministry. 

Given all of this, how is objectivity possible?  In my opinion, complete objectivity is simply not possible, even for secular historians.  The cumulative life experiences of people are always the lenses through which each of us views the world around us.  Complete objectivity should not be the goal when approaching the interpretation of Scripture.  The Christian should view the Scriptures through our faith within a framework of proper presuppositions.

[1] Duvall, J. S., & Hays, J. D. (2001, 2005). Grasping God's Word 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 89.
[2] Klein, W. W., Blomberg, C. L., & Hubbard, Jr., R. L. (1993, 2004). Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised and Updated. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 154.
[3] Ibid, 94.
[4] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[5] Duvall & Hays, 94-95.
[6] Klein, Blomberg, & Hubbard, Jr., (1993, 2004), 143.